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JRA plans image makeover, hires crisis manager

Kathy Times

Kathy Times

The Jackson Redevelopment Authority has conceded it has an image problem and is getting professional help to fix it.

The agency widely known for the low priority it puts on transparency wants a makeover in public perception. It’s hired Yellow Brick Media Concepts of Jackson to provide it.

The board received a proposal from Yellow Brick principal Kathy Times for a full branding and marketing campaign to help offset years of negative press the agency and its appointed board have received, mostly for stalled redevelopment projects such as downtown Jackson’s Farish Street Entertainment District. The full campaign would have cost $18,000 and would be created over a five-month period.

Just what the agency would have received for the money is not being made public. The JRA declined to release the proposal and is reviewing an open records request from the Mississippi Business Journal.

Spending $18,000 was more than board members could accept. In the end, they settled for a $3,000 “strategic” marketing plan that Times will prepare.

“We need to take incremental steps,” said board member Bishop Ronnie Crudup, who added the agency needs at minimum a Website to keep the public and potential business partners informed.

One board member said just tidying up the JRA’s image without creating a way to maintain a long term favorable perception of the agency would be like “putting perfume on a pig.”

Times, a former television reporter and adjunct journalism professor at Jackson State University, said she would have the plan ready in 30 days.

Jennifer Johnson, who took over as chairwoman in August, has said she wants to create more openness on the part of the JRA.  Too often, the agency’s accomplishments and the positive contributions it makes toward removing blight go unnoticed, she said.

Instead, what has reached the public lately about the JRA centers on “recent litigation,” she said. Recent litigation includes a lawsuit relating to the Farish Street development and a recent federal jury verdict that the City of Jackson wrongfully persuaded the JRA board to withhold a $5 million loan to a local developer.

Problems with the Farish Street project also have caused the agency to be suspended from future projects involving the U.S. Department of Urban Development. HUD is demanding a $1.5 million repayment from the City of Jackson for money it provided to buy the full block of parcels and buildings used for the now-dead Farish redevelopment. HUD claims the City never certified the JRA as a “sub-grantee” entitled to the $1.5 million.

The JRA agreed last week to borrow the $1.5 million and repay it on the City’s behalf. JRA board members hope the repayment will get the HUD suspension lifted.

Yellow Brick’s Times said in a later interview that she would prepare a strategic marketing analysis that would propose tools to help the JRA disseminate information and communicate with the public. “We’ll provide a roadmap to help them build a brand,” she said.

Times, a solo practitioner, said the JRA approached her about taking on the image polishing job.

Chairwoman Johnson said a request for proposals was not required for the professional services Times is to provide.

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